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Coaches Blog

Confront your fears

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Photo Description: An image of deep space, featuring stars and galaxies far, far away.

by Laura Henry

Here we are - the FINAL Coach Tip Tuesday of 2019!!

As we say farewell to one year and embark on a new one, I want to share this: “Confronting fear is the destiny of the Jedi.” -Star Wars - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Most of you know that I *love* Star Wars. Why?? The effects are awesome, lightsabers should be real, Wookies are my favorite, and space is cool, but it’s the STORY of Star Wars and the lessons that it teaches that have resonated with me over the course of my life. Unsurprisingly, the most recent installment did this for me again.

Why do any of us exist in the realm of endurance sports?? For most of us, that first step that we took was due to an innate desire to see where we could go, what we could do, and what we are truly capable of. When we began, there was probably at least a little bit (maybe a lot a bit) of fear that existed. Could we do it?? Would we be successful?? What if we failed??

While we may gain confidence over the course of our endurance sports journeys due to our experience and time in sport, these initial fears and thoughts don’t always go away 100%. Indeed, sometimes they morph into other thoughts and fears.

Everyone fears something different. Some people fear bicycle crashes. Some fear falling while running. Others fear water and possible drowning while swimming. Still others fear missing planned workouts. And then, there are fears of things like doing something new, something different than what was done before, something harder than what was done before, and of course, the one that gets most of us: fear of the unknown.

Seasoned athletes recognize the truth that fears don’t go away entirely, but morph, evolve, and change over time. They also recognize that their greatest growth occurs when they confront their fears, and as such, that they must learn to not only recognize their fears, but then manage them.

I have a lot of personal experience with this. When I broke my arm in 2015 riding my bicycle, it was quite scary to think about doing the same thing (riding a bicycle) again that had caused me to be so catastrophically and permanently injured. I could have decided to never ride a bicycle again, and that would have been very okay. But I *love* riding bicycles. And I *love* the sport of triathlon. I recognized that I *needed* to do the thing that scared me the most so I could enjoy the things that I love the most. And so, I took a massively deep breath, reassured myself that I would be okay, and got back on my bicycle.

A process like this requires a few things. First and foremost, it requires a truthful acknowledgment of what the fear is. Second, it requires a mindful choice to proceed ahead even with that fear lurking. Third, it requires some skills (mental and physical) to remain rational and not let emotions override what one knows to be true. For me, this meant acknowledging that the risk of crashing my bicycle will *never* be non-existant. The risk of crashing can, however, be decreased by things like improving my handling skills, increasing my self-awareness, and working on continuously developing my mental skill set. So in this case, if I wanted to get back my bike, I couldn’t “what if” the situation to death, I had to acknowledge that avoiding something doesn’t make it less risky or better, and that I had to do a certain set of things that *would* make me feel more in control and less scared. And then, finally, I had to go do the thing that I was scared to do, even if I was scared while doing it.

An unintended side effect of that accident and my subsequent “getting back on the bike” that happened for me is that my fear tolerance increased at least ten-fold. My post-accident self is not nearly as afraid of things as my pre-accident self was. Going through the accident, the experience of fearing something so much, and then working to manage and overcome it helped me to view my post-accident world through a much different lens. I gained confidence and skills as a result of this, and it has served me exceptionally well as both an athlete and as a coach to have gone through that experience. For this reason and many others, I am quite serious when I say that I would not change the fact that I did have this accident, sustained such a major injury, and that I experienced such fear as a result. I am sure that I wouldn’t have grown into the person, athlete, and coach I now am without those experiences. I like Vader Arm Laura a lot better than I liked pre-Vader Arm Laura. :)

And so, I understand Luke Skywalker when he says “Confronting fear is the destiny of the Jedi,” and I encourage you to all heed his message as well. While you and I may not be Jedi Knights, I do think that confronting fear is the destiny of all of us, and that we should not only accept this, but embrace it for all that it can do to enrich our lives and help us grow - both in our endurance sport lives as well as our “regular human” ones. :)

As you embark on not only a new year but a new decade, accept this challenge to look your fear in the face and confront it. You will grow more than you can even possibly imagine and go places that you never thought were possible.

So, take a deep breath, confront your fears, and reach for the stars, my friends. Happy New Year. :)

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